K'jipuktuk (Halifax) – On the eve of Kimberly Rivera's deportation to the United States, 10 members of the Halifax Peace Coalition and the local chapter of Amnesty International gathered outside the Citizenship and Immigration Office in a last-ditch effort to speak truth to power, and reverse the decision of the Harper regime to ignore Ms. Rivera's status as a conscientious objector to the Iraq War.
The contingent had gathered over 200 signatures from Nova Scotia supporters of Rivera and her quest to remain in Canada, where she has resided since 2007 with her husband and four children, the two youngest of whom were born in Canada. Rivera, who signed up for the United States military when she was 24, has built a life with her family in Canada. She has been an active member in her community, doing volunteer work and educating others about the Iraq War.
If deported, Rivera's lawyer has noted that she will face an immediate court marshal and expects that she will spend anywhere from two to five years in a military jail. Precedent has been set, as Robin Long, the first Iraq War deserter to be deported from Canada in 2008, spent one year in prison upon his deportation. Clifford Cornell, another conscientious objector to the Iraq War, whose refugee request was denied, also served prison time.
Allison Smith, a member of the Halifax Peace Coalition, considers Rivera's claim as a conscientious objector to be just, regardless of what Immigration Minister Jason Kenney might think.
“Her refusal to fight is not a judgment of the military or a statement that all wars are wrong,” says Smith. “It is instead a refusal to fight in a particular war that was founded on misinformation and that brought needless devastation to the people of Iraq...Many prominent legal voices have expressed that the Iraq War was a violation of international law. The majority of Canadians opposed the Iraq War.”
Amnesty International Canada has taken the position that Rivera is a conscientious objector. If Rivera is imprisoned upon returned to the United States, and signs point to this being so, Amnesty would consider her a prisoner of conscience and would call for her immediate and unconditional release.
The possibility of seeking asylum in Canada is also not promising. Rodney Watson, a United States war resister who opted for asylum, has spent the last three years living in a one-bedroom apartment in the First United Church in East Vancouver.
Smith, also a law student, notes that in choosing to deport United States war resisters, Canada is turning its back on not only its own history, but on a higher moral code.
“After World War II, the Nuremberg Tribunal set out important guidelines of international law,” says Smith. “Principle IV of these guidelines establishes that, if another choice is possible, soldiers have a moral and legal obligation to refuse to carry out illegal orders. In Canada, we have a proud history of helping those who refuse to participate in unethical wars. During the Vietnam war, more than 50,000 American soldiers came to Canada, refusing to participate in a war that was internationally recognized as unjust. Our then Prime Minister, Pierre Trudeau, openly expressed sympathy for those who made a conscientious choice not to participate in war. In his words, 'Canada should be refuge from militarism.' ”
Smith and the Halifax Peace Coalition urge Canadians of conscience to add their names to an already 20,000 signature-strong petition, which includes the autographs of such famous Canadians as Maude Barlow, Ron Hawkins and Naomi Klein.
"This year marks the 30th anniversary of our Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, which is the expression of the values that have defined and continue to define our country," says Smith. "The Charter enshrined Canada's commitment to equality rights for all individuals regardless of personal characteristics or belief system. Section 2 of the Charter expresses the vital concepts of freedom of conscience and freedom of religion...If we as Canadians and as human beings are committed to these values, it is our duty to speak against the deportation of those whose conscience drove them to refuse to participate in harm."